American Samoa: Football Island

Scott Pelley Reports on Why More NFL Players Come from This Tiny Group of Islands Than from Any Other Place in America

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American Samoa is a paradise - clear seas and 80 degrees most of the time. It's a land that roared out of the Pacific in a volcanic eruption. Nearly 5,000 miles from California and way past Hawaii, it's the only inhabited American possession south of the Equator. Of the seven islands in the chain, the largest is just over 19 miles, end to end.

It was back in 1899 that the U.S. Navy sailed into this harbor and figured that it was perfect for refueling ships. The islands have been American ever since.

The Samoan people aren't exactly American citizens. They can't vote for president - but, on the other hand, they don't pay income taxes either. The capital, Pago Pago, has an American feel. Flag Day is the most important holiday and there's a tradition of sending kids into the U.S. military. But for all its beauty, American Samoa is not blessed with wealth. For the most part, Samoans make a living canning tuna. Two-thirds of the people are below the poverty level.

Tavita Neemia, the quarterback for the Sharks, has a typical family. His mom works at the cannery, and he'll need a scholarship to go to college. He and Coach Lauvoa make the most of what they have.

The high school football field, which Lauvao called the "Field of Champions," is short, rocky and unlined. The team doesn't have a locker room or a weight room, either. And yet three NFL players have come out of his school.

"How are you turning out NFL football players?" Pelley asked Lauvao.

"Determination," he responded.

Voc-Tech High School has one player in the NFL. But Coach Ethan Lake has no practice field at all, and no locker room. A rusted shipping container is the storeroom for his varsity team's busted, antiquated equipment.

"Everything that's in here, that we have gotten here in American Samoa, is actually donated," Lake said. "It's second-hand equipment. And it's actually equipment that would never be allowed to be used in the States."

"Coach, if you used some of this gear back in the States, you'd get sued," Pelley remarked.

"Definitely, definitely," he nodded.

For all its success, American Samoa has never had youth football until this year.

The NFL and USA Football are helping to start the program. But all of the players that came before started playing in high school.

USA Football
American Youth Football (AYF)
Samoa Bowl
June Jones Fondation
All Poly Sports
Aiga (Family) Foundation

It seems they do well despite the adversity. But getting cut up on lava rock and playing in sneakers without equipment are the keys to their success. Samoans are born big, but the island makes them tough.

This is a place where kids use machetes to do their chores. Come to think of it, its a place where kids do chores. Seventeen-year-old Aiulua Fanene does a day's work before school, under the direction of his father, David.

"He's cooking in this house. He's cleaning in this house. That is something that kids back on the mainland would not believe if they didn't see it," Pelley told David Fanene.

"That's how he's been brought up. Discipline…Obedience should be involved in this house and I am expecting my children to obey us," he said.

  • Scott Pelley
    Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"